Bali: A Tale of Two Towns

As we drove the 34km from Seminyak Beach to the town of Ubud, the boutique shops, restaurants and luxury resorts, morphed into villages, farmland, rivers and narrow winding roads. Then, as suddenly as they had disappeared, once again we were surrounded by the trappings of tourism. But despite some similarities, the two towns have unique souls.

 

Bali, a small Indonesian island next to Java, has been attracting tourists since the early 1900s and offers a wealth of natural and man-made attractions, along with a very warm welcome. Although many think of Bali as Kuta, the party beach town in the south of the island that attracts most of the holidaymakers, it has plenty more to offer. We explored two other popular destinations: Seminyak and Ubud.


Seminyak village sits pretty on the west coast of the island, on the same long stretch of beach as Kuta and Legian, further south. But while Kuta is full of cheap clothes and souvenir stores, and is heaving with tourists, Seminyak has a classier vibe: boutique shops and enticing restaurants line its streets, funky bars can be found along the beach, and you can’t walk far without tripping up on the steps of a luxury villa or resort.


Although much of the dining and shopping action is located along Jalan Oberoi — the so called ‘eat street’ — some real gems can be found by wandering around the quieter streets: Kreol Kitchen, for example, is a wonderfully welcoming and creatively decorated cafe selling the most delicious homemade cakes, and the food at Delicious Onion is beautifully cooked and presented.


And of course there’s the beach. It may not be the archetypal tropical beach, being fringed with bars and hotels rather than palm trees, but my favourite moments in Seminyak are all thanks to that beach: the leisurely bare foot walk through the wash on our first day; the sunset Bintang beers with friends while sitting on plastic chairs slowly sinking into the sand; the amazing Italian meal at beachside La Lucciola; and lazing on beanbags, listening to a rock cover band at Crystal Palace.

 

Head Inland

But there’s a lot more to Bali than beaches, and Ubud offers one such alternative.


The popularity of 2006 novel, Eat, Pray, Love, in which Love takes place in Ubud, pushed this small town into the limelight. However, even before that, Ubud had gone past the stage of being a haven for backpackers, artists and bohemians, and had already begun to attract a wider array of visitors. Considered the cultural centre of Bali, it is not only famous for its arts and crafts but also its architectural sights and cultural events, such as nightly traditional dance performances.


Stories I’d heard suggested that Ubud had lost that certain touch which made it special, being an over-crowded tourist hotspot. But I found relative peace along its streets and in its chilled out cafes.


I also found a whole lot of shopping opportunities; if you’re looking for unique clothing or home decor, this is the place to be. It’s also the place to be if you like to eat. The dining options in Ubud surpass even those of Seminyak and range from what is often considered Bali’s best babi galung restaurant, Ibu Oka, through to indulgent cakes and excellent coffee at Localista, delicious healthfood at Kafe and sushi with a twist at Toro Sushi Cafe.


And did I mention the spas? No trip to Ubud is complete without at least one massage at one of the numerous spas in town. But if you have time, go for a more indulgent half-day package, or try out one of the out-of-town high-end spas like Mango Tree Spa, where some of the treatment rooms really are located in mango trees, or Maya Spa, overlooking the river.


But as much appeal as the town itself holds, it’s the surrounding area that really puts the makes Ubud so worthy of note. The nearby villages are a delight to wander around — their narrow streets dotted with intricately carved temples and charming houses — and the countryside of rolling hills and valleys and those ubiquitous rice terraces provide picture postcard vistas. We walked down from our hotel into town, along the Campuhan Ridge, stopping along the way at small art shops and to take in the breath-taking views.


One last piece of advice; don’t forget your camera.


There are no direct flights to Bali from Vietnam. We flew Tiger Air to Singapore and then Air Asia to Bali, but flights are also available via Kuala Lumpur. The currency is the Indonesian Rupiah.

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